Friday, December 30, 2011

Cultural Pride, Equality, And The Need For Voices

Context is an amazing thing. The most amazing thing about context is how few people actually understand it. This hit me as I watched Elon James White get assaulted on Twitter for his comment that black GOPers who say things like “liberal plantation” or “Democrat Masters” have already lost their argument. I chuckled when I saw it, and then went about my day. Hours later, Elon was STILL debating people in his mentions. For those who don’t know, Elon James White is a comedian and political commentator. He has a podcast called Blacking It Up and does a YouTube show called This Week in Blackness. At some point, someone called Elon racist. Their argument? They felt that Elon would say it was racist to have a show called This Week in Whiteness, so by association, This Week in Blackness must be racist.

When I saw that, I had to take a second, because I have some very militant thoughts from time to time. No scratch that, I have some very Afrocentric thoughts from time to time, to be more precise. You see, my entire life, I’ve been struggling to accept who I am. I’ve always felt as if I didn’t truly fit in. Some of that comes from being bullied, and some of that comes from the way I was raised, as well as having some body image issues, etc. But some of that can be attributed to being black. I was told growing up that being black meant that I would be harassed, that police, authority figures, and society in general would look at me differently. My first reaction was to deny that. Why would they? Why would anyone be derisive of me because of my skin color? I’m a good-looking, well-spoken and respectful young man. Surely, here in America, I would be judged not by my appearance but by the content of my character, right? Time has proven me wrong in that regard, very wrong. As a young black man growing up in the South, I have learned that no matter what I say, what I accomplish, I will forever be “the black guy” to some people.

But that doesn’t mean I should reject who I am. I AM a black man. I can’t nor do I want to ever change that. Being black has given me a perspective of this nation that few of us truly get the chance to have. Standpoint theory argues that those who are in the minority from a power standpoint have a better understanding of the world of minorities than those who are of the majority. In other words, as a black man, I understand being black more than someone who isn’t. Even if someone were to pull a Jane Goodall and live among the black people as they did, adopt their mannerisms and way of life for years, at the end of the day, their knowledge, nay their perception, would still be lacking compared to a standard black person. I personally agree with this, since I have seen what oppression looks like. I know what it feels like to have someone look at me with eyes full of hatred. Not only do I know that feeling, I embrace that as part of being Black. Do I hope the world changes one day? Of course I do. I want peace and harmony as much as the next man. But at the same time, those experiences have helped shape my perception, and have helped form the lenses at which I look at the world. I am black. And I’m okay with that.

Part of being black entails understanding that as a minority, your personal culture and history isn’t protected by the majority. They say that the victors write the history books, and they (who I imagine must have been victors, since we still know this quote) were definitely correct. I’m not accusing the majority of trying to erase the minority’s history, but as I stated, their perception of reality differs greatly from that of someone who is a minority. So the complete history of what shaped and continues to shape blackness in America may be cleaned up. Take Martin Luther King, Jr. versus Malcolm X for instance. Both men were great leaders and visionaries, who gave their lives willingly for what they believed in. One has his own day and recently had a statue erected to him. The other? Where is his statue? Where is his day? Malcolm X played a great role in influencing what shaped black culture, as did the Nation of Islam. But that role has been minimized and swept into the back page in history. Were it not for black people trying to keep that history alive, (Spike Lee, Chuck D, etc) where would it be? There needs to be a voice for the minorities, otherwise their history would be erased. Who better to provide that voice than the minorities themselves? As I’ve mentioned, minorities understand their plot far better than a majority looking in, no matter how great.

Does this “voice” mean that black people who are proud of themselves and their heritage hate everything non-black? No, of course not, no more than Scottish or Irish-Americans wearing kilts does, or Italian Americans or German Americans or Chinese=Americans embracing their culture does. In short, my being proud of who I am doesn’t make me less of an American, nor does it make me hate you for not being me. That’s ridiculous. However, as a Black American, when I see something that I can clearly tell is racism, (and remember standpoint theory? I have a clearer perception of that particular reality) yes, I WILL point it out as such. Now, I’m willing to admit that a lot of things are decried as racist that shouldn’t be, but by the same token, racism still exists. And until we as a society no longer tolerate discrimination of any sort, racism is going to be around. Racism doesn’t stand apart from the spectrum of discriminatory hate, on the contrary, its part of it.
Having said that, White America, if you want to start a show called “This Week In Whiteness” go right ahead. I should warn you, though, that it might not do very well. You see, the market for news and history shows about White America is flooded. For instance, we all know how white men rushed overseas in World War II to stave off evil. The “greatest generation” they’ve been called. However, this is the same generation that casually forgets to mention the black soldiers and what they had to endure. Soldiers like the Tuskegee Airmen, who had to be exceptional just to get a chance to fight. Soldiers like my grandfather, who was injured in World War II but never received a commendation for it because his commanding officer was white. Soldiers who could risk their lives for their country, but couldn’t get food from the front of a restaurant when they got back. History somehow forgets to mention these soldiers. And while we’re at it, what about the first and second generation Asian Americans who were rounded up and put into American concentration camps after Pearl Harbor? How many of these stories were in the news in the 1940’s? My point? White America gets enough press. It doesn’t NEED more voices, though if you wish to join the chorus, please feel free. However, minorities in America? We need all the voices we can get. The alternative is to forever be forgotten. I owe more than that to my future children.


Leah said...

Great post, Javann. THANK YOU for pointing out that "the greatest generation" refers exclusively to the young white men of WWII, and ignores all the women and people of color who made incredible sacrifices and bled for their country.

Your comments on racism can be applied equally to sexism, and to any discriminatory ideology that is used to control and suppress those not in power. Power is always going to tell you to sit down and be quiet. Stop making such a big deal out of things. Stop taking everything so seriously. Don't--gasp!--become a racist yourself.

Props to people like you and Elon for refusing to be silenced.

And I could definitely see a "This Week in Whiteness" if it was in the vein of "Stuff White People Like."

Javann said...

thanks for reading! I honestly think we forget sometimes that there are more narratives than the that of the majority.